Japan has shut down its last remaining operating nuclear reactor today, prompting fears the country may be left with insufficient energy capacity for the winter.
Reactor 4 at Ohi in western Japan stopped generating electricity in the early hours of this morning, meaning that all 50 of the country’s reactors have ceased operation. There is no schedule for a restart, leaving Japan without nuclear power until December at the earliest.
The Ohi reactors were the only ones to restart after all 50 were shut down after the March 2011 tsunami swamped the plant at Fukushima, triggering a triple meltdown. 160,000 people were forced to abandon their homes.
The closure at Ohi was made for scheduled refuelling and maintenance work, but it is estimated that it will leave Japan without nuclear power for the longest period since the 1960s.
So far, power companies have applied to the country’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) to restart 12 of Japan’s inactive reactors, including the Ohi power plant. The regulators began safety assessments in July, but said it would be at least 6 months before any gained approval.
It is feared that this may leave Japan with insufficient energy capacity through the winter.
Despite widespread public concerns over the safety of nuclear power in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, the Japanese government appear to be committed to reopening Japans nuclear plants. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe argues that nuclear energy remains essential.
The lack of nuclear power has forced Japan to import huge amounts of coal, gas and other fuels. The government blames these imports for the trade deficits posted by Japan since 2011.
However, continuing problems at the Fukushima plant are increasing opposition to the return of nuclear power. Earlier this month, the NRA warned that it may be forced to dump radioactive water from the plant into the ocean.
Radiation levels at some areas of the site are high enough to kill an exposed person within four hours.
Environmental campaigners have argued that the shut down presents Japan with an opportunity. “Having zero running nuclear reactors is proof that we do not need nuclear plants,” said Junichi Sato, executive director of Greenpeace Japan.
“Going without nuclear energy for the second time is a major opportunity for Japan to become a leading nation for renewable energy.”